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Decherd Police Chief submits resignation following fallout from officer's road rage incident

Decherd Police Chief Ross Peterson
Posted at 4:24 PM, Jul 23, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-23 23:22:22-04

DECHERD, Tenn. (WTVF) — Decherd Police Chief Ross Peterson has submitted his resignation after NewsChannel 5 raised questions about the department's hiring practices following a road rage incident involving an officer last month.

City officials released the following statement:

The city has received the official resignation of Safety Director Ross Peterson and has accepted it. Under the current circumstances it appears to be in everyone's best interest to put this behind us and move forward with a fresh start. The city thanks Mr. Peterson for his service to the city and wishes him well as he moves forward. The city looks forward to moving on and getting back to concentrating on serving the good citizens of the City of Decherd

The resignation follows a series of reports from NewsChannel 5 stemming from an incident last month where the Rutherford County Sheriff's Office says former officer Mathew Ward held a driver at gunpoint while off duty and out of his jurisdiction, following a road rage incident on I-24 in Rutherford County.

Ward was allowed to resign from the police department.

City leaders had questioned why the Decherd police department didn't dig deeper into Ward's work history before he was hired. According to documents obtained by NewsChannel 5 through a public records request, Ward's police trainers at his previous job with Ft. Walton Beach Police in Florida raised several red flags before Ward quit prior to finishing his training.

Previously, Peterson told NewsChannel 5 that Ward hadn't signed a release allowing the police department to ask his former employers detailed questions about his past.

But documents obtained by NewsChannel 5 contradict that explanation, including a policy Peterson set out less than two months before Ward was hired, mandating that such a form be filled out.

At a Thursday press conference in Decherd, Peterson said the form Ward filled out did not fall under the policy Peterson had put in place. But Peterson didn't explain, in that case, what specific form the policy was referring to.

The Decherd Board of Mayor and Aldermen was supposed to meet Thursday to determine whether their police chief should be fired, but the Mayor canceled the meeting at the last minute, citing the need for more investigation.

NewsChannel 5 has tried several times to contact former Officer Mathew Ward by phone and text message for any comment he or his attorney would like to make. He has not yet responded.

READ MORE:

Off-duty Decherd officer accused of pointing police-issued gun at driver during road rage incident -- 6/15/21

Victim in road rage incident confronts Decherd city leaders -- 7/12/21

Questions surround past job of Decherd police officer charged with aggravated assault-- 7/13/21

Public records detail troubling past of Decherd police officer charged with aggravated assault -- 7/14/21

Decherd Police documents contradict police chief's statements on Ward investigation - 7/15/21

Decherd city leaders schedule meeting to discuss whether to fire police chief -- 7/19/21

Decherd police chief speaks after meeting is suddenly cancelled -- 7/22/21